(I finally had time to sit down and write this. Hope you can relax and enjoy reading about my personal experience on Black Friday. The story took me five pleasant hours to write.)
When I mentioned to Hubby Jim that Wal-Mart was having some exceptional sales starting at 4 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving (Black Friday), his slight snicker gave me pause before announcing that I planned to be there at 4 a.m. to purchase our pre-lit, 6.5-foot, Douglas Fir, Artificial Christmas tree for a mere $25.00!
I held up the weekly circular that was chocked-full of items I had on my Christmas list. “They'll have blue jeans for $8.00; a fleecy hooded jacket for $6.00; king-size sheet sets for $10.00; a king-size comforter set for $20.00; large towels for $2.00 each; children’s games like Monopoly for $4.00; computer gadgets in electronics; and last-but-not-least, our Christmas tree that will fit perfectly in the corner of our living room if I move the couch to the front of the sliding patio doors,” I explained in my most confident womanly voice.
During the next couple hours, I determined my shopping spree items and traced my imaginary path around Wal-Mart to get to the most places in the quickest route if I met with large crowds. Hubby cast side-glances and deep sighs of unease.
“You’ll have to watch your back. You don’t know who’s out that early in the morning. It will be real cold. Zip up your coat and wear gloves. Lock the car doors when you get in. Take your cell phone, and call me if anything looks suspicious,” he cautioned.
When the alarm clock broke through the gates of my dreamland at 3:55 a.m., it took about three seconds for me to remember that I wasn’t getting up for an early morning shift at the hospital, but going out on a shopping trip! Within 10-minutes I was dressed with shopping list and discount coupons in hand. I quietly kissed a sleepy hubby who woke up enough to offer one last warning to watch my back.
“Do you want to go with me?” I asked solicitously.
“No”, came the groggy but bemused reply.
A big dark car followed me to the highway. Had someone been waiting to tail and harm me? Boy, hubby had sure done wonders with my imagination! It was probably another nurse who was actually going to work!
During the 15-minute drive to Wal-Mart, I determined that very few cars were out on the roads, so maybe it wouldn’t be as crowded as the horrific Black-Friday stories I’d heard about.
Waiting at the red light to turn into the shopping center, I peered all around to see if there were headlights or flashing lights to indicate flocks of people or lots of trouble. I could turn around if I felt unsafe, I decided.
As I drove through the mall entrance, I was confused. Was this ten-thousand cars, or a solid mass of black ice that covered the parking lots for Wal-Mart, Sams Club, Staples, Home Buffet and a dozen other shopping mall stores?
I’m sure my mouth dropped open as I comprehended the reverie of an army of cars, trucks and campers – all dark and quiet but amassing every parking spot in sight! As if in a silent movie, I inched up and down rows of ominous vacant vehicles while searching for one empty parking space. Where were all the people? I couldn’t imagine that all of stores in the entire mall could hold all the people who had occupied these vehicles. I didn’t see anyone walking outside either. Proponents of Instant Rapture would have fun with this story!
Parking what seemed like miles from the target of my shopping spree, with sharp car keys, fully charged cell phone, and a bottle of defensive spray perfume in hand, I began the chilly journey toward the front door of Wal-Mart.
Here I might mention, that later in the day we heard on the news about the fatality in another Wal-Mart as early morning shoppers stormed in and trampled a young man to death.
Mobs like that greeted me as I finally entered the brightly lit store teeming with throngs of noisy, wild-eyed, chaotic, reckless, crazed, bargain hunters who apparently had been haggling from store to store all night to find the best deals in town. I looked at my watch wondering if I had entered a time warp. It was 4:35 a.m.!
Several fully armed policemen pressed around the entrance with nervous fingers tapping on their gun handles. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen police offers looking somewhat anxious. Already the checkout lanes were packed with endless circular trails of impatient customers who stood in three-deep lines pushing against each with overflowing carts of merchandise.
The noise level was deafening as unbridled shoppers shouted instructions on their cell phones to parties at other stores, grabbing the best of Black Friday deals and coordinating the next rendezvous!
Ironically, I wondered how I could ‘watch my back’ as I slipped my purse strap around my neck and across my chest. Where was my ‘treasure map’? Already I’d forgotten everything on my list except for the Christmas tree that would be located on the farthest side of the store and seemingly impossible to ‘get there from here’.
I decided to try to pick up some items on my list as I made my way to the Christmas tree. The cart I had swiped from the Sam’s Club parking lot was twice the size of Wal-Mart shopping cart and impossible to guide through this legion of mobsters. I considered abandoning it altogether, but knew I’d need it for the Christmas tree – if I ever got that far! Instead, I ‘exchanged’ it for a smaller cart someone had parked while reaching for an item in another isle.
Feeling very hot and flushed in the face, I wondered if I could handle the claustrophobia that was beginning to paralyze me. If only I had brought a cold drink, or if I could find someplace to sit for a minute, but both were out of the question at the moment! Urging my mind to find a cool, quiet place and removing my coat helped slightly. (Was it safe to put my coat in my cart? Frenzied shoppers might see a good bargain and grab it too!) In a large dressing mirror, I didn’t recognize my own white shade of pale, glassy eyed, sweat-glistened face. No wonder I felt weak and faint!
Pressing on, I noticed that the hot, sale-priced items on my 4 a.m. shopping list were piled in the center isles. Asking around, I discovered that the sheets, coats, and hooded jackets were already ‘sold out’. I just happened to discover the comforter sets in front of me when the crush of people was at a complete standstill. I was amazed that the only package left to pick up was the king-size comforter I had been hoping for. Other hands were also reaching for the comforter, and several women asked if I wanted to give it up as they moved on down the line to grab the next sale item.
Electronics, being at the back of the store, was not even an option. The back half of the entire store was packed like sardines out of water. No one was moving except to push and pull at each other like tigers on dead meat. I turned away into the shower curtain isle where I thought I might make my way through the paint department and around to the garden area for the coveted Christmas tree. Hurrah! A breath of air and space to move a little!
Slipping through the double doors to the outside garden area was like gliding into a lush garden and being the only inhabitant to enjoy its sparkling beauty. The evergreen trees were lit with bright twinkling lights and surrounded with hundreds of red, white and pink Poinsettias. The air was cool and sweet.
My boxed Christmas tree with 600 multi-colored lights, said, “Pick me. Pick me. I thought you’d never get here.”
Alas, I had to go back into the angry mob to pay for the tree (and my comforter set). By now, it was 5:15 a.m. (It had taken me 40 minutes to get from the front door to the garden area.) While it seemed the crush of people had somewhat thinned out, I couldn’t find the end of the line. It twisted and turned through the jewelry department, men’s clothing, shoe department, and into the grocery area. Other lines ended up in the service area and back into the toy department. An employee was going down the lines with some instructions. I inched closer and asked someone what she was saying. “She says if you are in a 20-items-only line, you will have to move to a regular line when you get up there,” was the unimpressive answer.
I got behind a Harley-Davidson tee shirt and looked at my watch. It was 5:30 a.m. and we were scheduled to deliver meals-on-wheels by 9:15 a.m. Dread overtook me as I figured I might be standing in line for the next four hours. Should I just give up my tree and comforter set now? The line did not seem to be moving at all. Disgruntled shoppers were dropping items on the floor and leaving for the next best sale at another store before the time limits expired. Well, I’d wait until the last minute and see how far I got.
Suddenly I had a strange sensation that people around me were munching on donuts! Nice soft, fluffy glazed donuts! My favorite donuts! Following the line of sugar-crusted lips, my eyes lit up at the sight of a tall cart with shelves that were filled with those sweet delights! “Free” murmured someone as I reached out and swooped up a lifesaver!
The long lines thinned out to transform into friendly, bantering, gift exchanging, information-gathering normal human beings. One lady excitedly ran up with a pair of the $8.00 jeans.
“Where were those jeans?” I asked with eager anticipation.
“Right over there,” she directed around the corner.
Leaving my cart with Harley-Davidson, I dashed to the area and was dismayed to find the shelves mostly empty. I was sure that had the shelves been well stocked, finding a woman’s, petite-sized jeans would have been almost impossible on a good day. Well, here is the Wal-Mart, Black Friday Miracle. The only pair of $8.00 jeans laying right on top with the size facing the outside, was my size!
And right there on the end of the children’s isle was a woman’s coat to die for - in my size! And, right in plain sight lay two hoddie jackets in my size in brown and red – the two colors I had wanted!
My shopping was complete! Not as I had planned, but what a treat! Along the way, as the checkout line inched forward, I picked up a few other items that people had tossed off their carts. A set of red decorations for the tree (on sale), building blocks for the grandkids (on sale), and even the little electronic thing I wanted!
Of course, I gave out all my angel cards and made temporary friends while we exchanged Christmas stories and shopping advice. Unusual for Wal-Mart, there were very few fussy children present at that hour of the morning. A couple of grinning dads pushed bicycles (already assembled?), and older people sat contentedly on large suitcases. The now quieter, more astute shoppers murmured quietly as we watched the top of the heads of those moving at the front of the line.
The human tide went out as quickly as it had come in. Fiscal responsibility took control as shoppers reminded each other of the seriousness of our economy. More non-essential, impulsive-buying articles were laid to rest along the checkout route. The rush abated, and carts moved in unison toward the checkout associates who paid no heed to the number of articles in a cart.
I was back home stringing up the tree before hubby had time to call and ask if I was okay. As he slandered sleepily into the living room, the sparkling tree glowed in the corner. I sipped a cool drink feeling satisfied with myself, and pleased at my vow to leave future Black Friday revelry to the Knights of Commercialism.
Black Friday got an early death at our house.
Take Care on the Journey